Living the WELL Life

Caught Napping - GMOedipus Rex

Monday, September 17, 2012

Not only has Shane formally asked me to sleep in the guest room by way of a post-it note on the vanity, she actually burned that special copy of my great opus -- Zucchini, the Other White Meat – that I autographed for her on our first date. It gets worse.  I have also been ostracized by my Wednesday lunch group, the Fermented Four.  In fact, they have asked me with menacing undertones by way of a Craigslist personal ad to maintain a minimum distance of 100 feet from any Whole Foods salad bar lest I bring pestilence and contamination to those most sacred grounds.  They have also notified me that they have changed their name to the Kimchi Three following my excommunication.  

That’s right, good people… I have become a pariah… a Chandala,  “untouchable” by the clean.  All five of my therapists claim I have hit rock bottom with a resounding thud.  Their collective diagnosis is as unanimous and unforgiving as the Greek chorus telling Oedipus he has unknowingly committed most grievous offenses against humanity and against himself.  Like Oedipus, I, too, have unwittingly committed grave sins.  Like Oedipus – whose name means “swollen foot,” I, too, have a swollen foot but can’t find a good brand of turmeric (email me with your recommendations).

“You with your precious eyes,” says Tiresias as he taunts Oedipus.   “You're blind to the corruption of your life.”

And so what is my crime?  How have I been corrupted?  I am ashamed to say it, but I have become part of the great GMO manufacturing machine.  Yes, I have been testing countless products for GMO every single day at work and until now have remained silent.  I know, I know… Fate has something extra-special in store for poor Toddy.  I know I have it coming.  It’s only a matter of time now before I turn into a giant ear of modified corn, before I turn into a beast, into a GMOedipus Rex. Sometimes, I dream I am being smothered by a massive, genetically-modified bean curd. Other nights, I dream I am being taken advantage of by a giant soysage.  I am weak.  I am frail.  The irony is more than I can handle.     

Dream has now become reality for me because, truth be told, I am seeing GMO turning up everywhere.  Every day, samples are tested for GMO, and every day they’re coming up positive.  This probably surprises none of you.  Similarly, it probably surprises no one that many of these products testing positive for GMO claim to be GMO free. How can that be?

Now, the meteoric rise in GMO products is not exactly news. However, what I find so disturbing is how frequently these products were for years actually GMO-free prior to some unknown cross-contamination or adulteration issue that occurred without anyone knowing. It’s disconcerting to say the least.  Every week, small businesses owners with the best of intentions get their results back from the lab and just like that, their entire business is thrown into chaos.  These well-intentioned manufacturers of the foods you and I eat every day with a clear conscience are truly shocked and dismayed when they test positive for GMO.

If you talk to scientists where they create many of the modifications, they will tell you (if they know you) that they have no idea what the health risks are. For me, this is the scariest answer of all.  The good scientists will tell you straight up -- they just don’t know.  There is not enough hard science to make earth-moving pronouncements.  Then there are the hundreds of scientists furiously working away in China where there is little, if any, governmental oversight.  They always seem to be one step ahead of detection in their mutations. People may loathe Monsanto, but at least they have an actual address.

What I am telling you is that GMO has reached a scale where we can’t even keep track of it any more.  We can’t keep track of it because cross-contamination, deception and fraud, evasive science, and lax domestic policy making have created a confusing jumble in which detection, prevention, correction, and accountability have become convoluted to the extent that nobody knows what’s going on… GMOedipus.  For example, we can look for the Monsanto Round Up resistance gene, but if it’s not there, does that mean there are no other modifications?  Of course not. There are thousands of target genes to look for, so how on earth do you find a needle in a haystack? Nobody can look for all possible modifications, so this whole business of GMO Free certification is really one big cat-and-mouse game.

GMO is everywhere now, and everywhere we are becoming less likely to ever escape.  I suspect we have reached the point where it is so pervasive that everyone in the food-manufacturing biz feels like giving up.  The expense of corrective action can cripple a small or mid-sized business.  Still, I can’t allow people to grow complacent, somnambulant.  After all, that’s the whole point of Caught Napping.

In an effort to get our arms around a testing methodology that is broad enough to detect the presence of GMO, I have decided to test for the lowest common denominator in hopes of finding GMO as broadly as possible.  Accordingly, we test for the CaMV 35S promoter (Cauliflower Mosaic Virus) and the NOS (Nopaline Synthase) terminator. I will explain it very, very simply by saying the 35S promoter is like the engine that drives genetic mutations of many varieties; the NOS terminator ceases the mutation. Either 35S or NOS is present in approximately 85%-90% of all GMO products. Searching for a single target gene (modified) was literally like finding a needle in a haystack; now we can catch it by casting our net wide.

The result?  Well, products of all sorts are coming back positive for 35S and/or NOS.  A lot of people are getting caught napping, let me tell you.  But as I said, many of them are genuinely unsuspecting and are the victims of either a cross-contamination event or their suppliers unwittingly suffered a cross-contamination event and were blind to it… GMOedipus.  True, there is enough fraud to go around as well, considering the premium price “GMO free” products and raw materials command.  It’s enough to make me want to tear my eyes out.<<>

The irony, of course, is that progressive consumers have driven up demand for “alternative” products to such an extent that suppliers can’t meet the demand.  Usher in GMO to increase production/yield.  This is, in my opinion, the case with soy.  Similarly, alternative fuel programs heralding ethanol have driven the demand for corn to the point that farmers turn to GMO to provide increased crop yields.  And then the bees come in and… Boom!  It’s cross-pollinated everywhere.

Yes, food science is making huge advances in detection by looking for 35S and NOS.  I am very proud of this work because I believe it provides a public service, providing valuable information with which people can make choices.  I believe that’s the only way to effect positive and lasting change – freedom of information and freedom of choice.  Thus, working in food science has provided me with an unexpected opportunity to be a teacher again.

Awww… that’s so touching, Todd.  What’s the big deal with GMO anyway?

Like I said earlier, we really don’t know the hard and fast effects of consuming/using GMO products.  Everyone has their own opinion, and I am not looking to get overly scientific.  Nor is it my purpose in this forum to provoke the wrath of some people who want to start a war of words over my cursory handling of something so complex.  Suffice it so say that for me, there’s the intuitive concern that we are introducing things into our bodies that are not otherwise found in nature, and that’s generally not a good idea.  But let me also tell you this… the Cauliflower Mosaic Virus is a favorite among genetic scientists in part because of how it replicates.  How it replicates… like a retrovirus is how it replicates.

The problem is that the CaMV has “hot spots” that seem to attract disease.  The best known retroviruses are HIV and T-lymphotropic diseases.  Indeed, the Cauliflower Mosaic Virus seems to have an affinity for “hooking up” with some rather nasty partners.  I’ll leave it at that for now.

Seconds anyone?

Like this post? Then you also want to check out this incredible film: Genetic Roulette - The Gamble of Our Lives

Christina also has additional GMO related posts that you can read here...


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